The Stan Heath era at Arkansas has come to end. ESPN’s Andy Katz, who scooped all the local guys, reported on Monday that Stan Heath was fired as the head basketball coach at Arkansas. This news is only mildly surprising.
(Katz also said Monday he didn’t believe Texas A and M’s Billy Gillispie would leave Aggieland for Fayetteville, though anyone with any UA inside connection seemed to think otherwise when the Times went to press Tuesday.)
After five seasons, Heath went to the NCAA Tournament twice, but was beaten in the first round both times. His teams never sniffed a division or overall title and made the SEC Tournament final only once, getting run by Florida just a few weeks ago.
While it was believed that Heath’s teams would turn the corner, especially after landing talented freshmen Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh and star junior college transfer Sonny Weems, they didn’t. This season, Arkansas seemed to play like many of the teams Heath coached in years past.
We’ve been ardent supporters of Heath’s work. After all, when he arrived at Arkansas there was nothing. Not an ounce of talent. He had to go out in the midst of a lawsuit, which exposed some deep-seated racial tensions at the UA, and recruit players who could actually pass, shoot and defend.
This one of Heath’s real talents; he proved to be a good recruiter. It appeared that this year’s team was the most talented of the Heath era.
But the record reflected something entirely different. Despite beating Southern Illinois, West Virginia and Marist on a neutral court in Orlando, the Razorbacks continued to lose to poor teams on the road. The Hogs often looked unmotivated and lethargic ambling up and down the court. Arkansas couldn’t string together critical wins until the very end of the season. The result was a 7-9 conference record and only 18 wins overall.
Yes, there was that run through the 2007 SEC tournament. But tournament runs have to be taken with a grain of salt. While championship week is fun for the fans, it’s the entire body of work and not just those final games that make the season.
The issue now is what Arkansas will do with this vacancy. Arkansas fans assume that the administration will go out and hire a big-name coach. They better, because with up to seven scholarships on the table this fall, hiring a mid-major nobody from a crybaby conference like the Missouri Valley isn’t the smart move.
You’ll recall a similar situation when Danny Ford was fired as the Razorback football coach in 1997. Arkansas had the chance to hire then-Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville, but the “search committee” blew it and Arkansas ended up with an unproven mid-major cheerleader that has turned the football program into an episode of “Days of Our Lives.” This time, though, UA athletic director Frank Broyles said Monday he’d been given the authority to find the next coach and present the name to UA Chancellor John White to be accepted or rejected.
Late last week, Minnesota offered then-Kentucky coach Tubby Smith $1.8 million per year to take their head coaching job. He did. New Mexico ponied up more money than it ever had to get Iowa coach Steve Alford. Kentucky, presumably, will pay whatever it takes to get its No. 1 choice, which appears to be Florida’s Billy Donavan, who still has a couple of games to coach for the Gators in Atlanta.
Stan Heath, who came to Arkansas after one miracle season at Kent State, was fired because he didn’t win enough. It’s a plain and simple standard for Division I coaches. Winning is all that matters. We’re fine with Heath being fired for that reason. But we’re not fine with the standard being applied to one coach and not another. It’s unfortunate, sad and representative of the continued inequality in Fayetteville. And it’s all the more reason for the UA to bid farewell to Frank Broyles too, which it will do in December.
Nevertheless, the issue now is hiring the right coach to succeed Stan Heath. Here’s hoping Chancellor White has learned from the mistakes of the past.
J.R. and Henry are a couple of Little Rock-based sports fanatics who blog their column regularly on the Arkansas Times’ Little Rocking entertainment blog.